Injured war veterans joined military leaders Thursday to cut the ribbon outside the doors of the Wounded Warrior Barracks at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center. The residences and a new fitness center across the street are two of the biggest projects in the medical center’s expansion, which is estimated at more than $1 billion.
Adm. Matt Nathan, commander of the National Naval Medical Center, called it “world-class hotelling” for the wounded.
It is “basically a home environment where they feel comfortable, as independent as possible, and respected by the military and American people,” he said.
Patients from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington will move to the new facilities over the next two weeks, Nathan said. He anticipated about 200 soldiers in rehabilitation, up to 100 more in the hospital and up to 2,000 staff members would move to Bethesda.
Then Walter Reed will shut its doors. The move was mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) of 2005. The Navy estimated the military’s share of expenses at more than $1 billion.
Nathan said Walter Reed patients contributed to the design of the Bethesda facilities. They offered suggestions ranging from bed size to bathroom fixtures.
Speaking of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said, “It’s not only ADA-compliant. It’s wounded warrior-compliant.”
The residential suites are equipped for those in wheelchairs and who have prosthetics. Each has a queen-size bed, a flat-screen television, a computer with Internet access and a kitchen. The warrior support complex includes an Olympic-size swimming pool with a ramp, fitness studios, a gym with a running track and two racquetball courts. Both facilities are just up the street from the hospital.
“Our covenant is to take care of you when you’re over there, when you’re here and after you leave here. Our covenant is for life and this is symbolism of that,” Clifford Stanley, Defense Department’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, told the injured soldiers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
But not everyone is happy about the move from Walter Reed.
Army Specialist Jeremy Kuehl lost part of his left leg in an explosion in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2010. He has been living at Walter Reed for more than a year and said he’s sad to see it shut down.
“I’m a nostalgic type of guy,” Kuehl said. “Walter Reed has a lot of history.”
But Kuehl says he’s glad to know his doctors will be moving here with him. And, Walter Reed’s name will live on. Next month, the Bethesda facility will be renamed the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, after the Civil War-era Army doctor.